ACLU Demands Florida Health Department Remove Religious HIV/AIDS Booklet
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida yesterday demanded that the Florida Department of Health remove from its inventory an HIV/AIDS booklet called "A Christian Response to AIDS," which includes quotes from the Bible and a picture of Jesus Christ, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU, said that the purpose of the brochure was to promote a particular religious viewpoint rather than to educate people about HIV/AIDS (LaMendola, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 4/4). "It's clearly unconstitutional," Simon said, adding, "It is not permissible for the state to spend a dime endorsing a particular theological point of view" (Lauer, Tallahassee Democrat, 4/4). The ACLU yesterday sent a letter to Dr. John Agwunobi, secretary of the state health department, and Beth Swisher of the Florida Bureau of AIDS expressing its concerns and requesting that the brochure be pulled (Canedy, New York Times, 4/4). Simon said that about 13,500 copies of the 16-page brochure were bought by the health department in 2001 and 2002, according to the Miami Herald. Health department officials said that the brochure is on a list of state-approved HIV/AIDS education materials. Tom Liberti, director of the Florida Bureau of AIDS, said that the department purchased the pamphlets after they were requested by faith-based organizations -- particularly black groups -- that were involved in prevention programs, according to the Herald (Robinson, Miami Herald, 4/4). Liberti said that he would be spending a week speaking to groups and other states that use the brochure before deciding what action to take, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "One of two things will happen. We'll either remove [the brochure] or have a pretty strong justification for keeping it on the list," Liberti said (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 4/4).
The brochure, which was first published in 1990, has been distributed in other states, where it has also been criticized, according to the Associated Press (Royse, Associated Press, 4/3). The Pennsylvania Department of Health last month removed from its Web site the same religious-themed AIDS pamphlet, which was included in a list of educational brochures. The agency commenced a review of the appropriateness of the pamphlet after Capitolwire, an online state government news service questioned its presence on a state Web site. The department initially purchased 10,000 brochures in 2002 and distributed them to churches as part of an effort to educate the black community about HIV/AIDS. Two years ago, Washington, D.C., health officials were criticized for offering the brochure. District health officials said that an error had been made in ordering the pamphlet, and they stopped distributing it (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/17).